Angry Fags: Great Start, Disturbing Ending (Review)

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(L-R) Phoebe Fuller (Kimberly), Tom Wilson (Adam) and Meg Shooter (Senator Allison Haines) / © Chris Lundie

A raft of LGBITQ+ themed workshops, events, and original works are headed our way and like they have for the past 25 years, New Theatre continues that tradition with new show, Angry Fags.  Under the direction of Mark G. Nagle, it opens tonight, running throughout the entire Sydney Mardi Gras season until 7 March.

Peculiar yet endearing, the stage is set for an over the top unraveling as we’re taken into a satirical world of comedy against the backdrop of media hungry politicos and their spin doctors.

“It’s laugh-out-loud stuff,” says Mark “and has a lot to say about society in general and the present-day machination of living under Trump.  Although written by a gay playwright  and including several gay characters this is a play for everyone.  Indeed it’s merely a story where the central characters happen to be gay.  It is a tale about making a stand, regardless of consequence – and everyone can relate to that! Part camp romp, part thriller, it culminates in one helluva surprise ending.”

Let’s talk about that later because the set up in act one establishes great potential before it takes an unexpected turn that will divide the audience.  On the one hand, you might think it’s true to form in gay attitudes to the mainstream and internally within the LGBTIQ+community, on the other, you might think it was like someone had to meat a tight deadline and just quickly wrote an ending to a well thought out start just to get it done.  It needed some contemplation post-show that’s for sure.

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(L-R) Lachie Pringle (Cooper) and Brynn Antony (Bennett) – a great portrayal of friendship and banter.  When Bennett’s ex is bashed in the car park of a gay bar,  his boss, Senator Haines refuses to label it a hate crime – because, under Georgia law, hate crimes against homosexuals don’t exist.  Tipped over the edge, Bennett and Cooper embark on a vendetta of sabotage and assassinations, reasoning that if gays aren’t respected enough to win equal justice and rights, fear will achieve what good intentions and politics cannot / © Chris Lundie

The show dances with themes of legacy in equality – collective responsibility versus individual freedom.  Payne’s writing establishes very well developed characters that drift in and out of clichees presenting the flirtatious and loyal friendship between Bennet (Brynn Antony) and Cooper (Lachie Pringle).  Some of the best moments throughout the play were just genuine honest conversations representing views and opinions many in the LGBTIQ+ community may have on pop culture topics and issues.  These kind of moments in theatre are so rare and a sense of realness that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the Australian stage.

What’s disappointing about these two characters is they take a turn I just couldn’t get on board with in the end, because up until the second act, the audience was rooting for them.  Watch it – you’ll see.     It also might partly have to do with much of their heinous crimes  in the first act happening out of the audience’s view.  Antony and Pringle took the material and played very likeable characters finding humour in all their endeavours throughout the story before crushing our hopes and dreams of any redemption.  Instead it closes on a diabolical note.

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(L-R) Tom Wilson (Adam) and Phoebe Fuller (Kimberly) play the spin doctors of politics / © Chris Lundie

Engaging performances from Senator Allison Haines’ campaign team are peppered throughout the show softening the murderous sporting activities of Bennett and Cooper.   A seasoned actor, ex-Home & Away star, Tom Wilson brings an innocence to the quiet achiever and career aspiring Adam.  His real motivations are unclear until the end.  People come across one way, pick their moments and then their true colours come out.  It’s a complex line to walk and Wilson’s delivery is flawless and was on point.  Particularly when the sudden change in character is so rapid toward the end, until we recall it is what he had always envisioned from the very beginning.  We just didn’t think about how.

Phoebe Fuller‘s grand moment is chilling as her grand finale was set up with some great one liners throughout the show living her life through her gay co-workers while juggling family life and two kids at home.   The thoughts running through your mind when faced with that situation would be exactly those of her final words.

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Meg Shooter (Senator Allison Haines) and Monique Kalmar (Peggy) play opposing political candidates / © Chris Lundie

Ocassionally, the play opens out into light ideological and historical debate.  This is where the meat in Payne’s script lies.  From the post analysis of American politics by Adam, to the dissection of optics and choice, it makes its arguments structurally when lesbian Senator Haines’ (Meg Shooter) personal behaviour has to be compromised to satisfy the political game she’s playing.   Shooter channels an honest workplace truth many of the audience will relate to.

Empathy is almost built for the hard right character of Peggy.  Monique Kalmar‘s soft southern tones and demeanor almost make it impossible to dislike the assertiveness in her right wing beliefs.  Almost.  It was a very creative interpretation of a (we thought in the beginning) villain in the piece.

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(L-R) Brynn Antony (Bennet) and Tom Wilson (Adam) play love, loyalty ambition – taking us to dark places / © Chris Lundie

It’s a stunning patterned production pulling together echoes and reflections of the LGBTIQ+ community with charming snapshots in young love, commradery and friendship that completely deteriorate and splinter in the second act.

It asks the question on who we are as a community, the roles we play in enacting change and indictment of our actions when dealing with external opponents and within the inner circle of the LGBTIQ+ community.

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(L-R) Emily Weare (Deidre) and Meg Shooter (Senator Allison Haines) – it’s a dance with the devil as political winners are chosen and shaped by the media / © Chris Lundie

The great thing about New Theatre’s productions are that it’s LGBTIQ+ focused shows arent necessarily exclusive to an LGBTIQ+ audience.  Topher Payne‘s script explores relatable themes of double standards faced by women in politics and a hilarious expression of conservative republican and democratic views.  The writing isn’t pro or against and gives equal time to both sides with comedic contrasts from the ensemble.

Nagle directs with a gliding theatricality in Marta Rodriguez‘s contextual set design using just a park bench, lounge and desk set.

A fluid stream of scene changes uninterrupted through the 140 minute production (including intermission) with clever use of the stage through David Marshall Martin‘s lighting design as we’re taken through different locations of the city of Georgia.

Vision (George-Alex Nagle) adds depth for off-stage events that take place through news pieces and sound (Gleen Braithwaite).   It’s a seamless live experience with a great display and foundation for the cast to catapult off in the first act.

Angry Fags opens tonight at New Theatre, Newtown and will be a night of laughs.

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Cast Brynn Antony, Phoebe Fuller, Monique Kalmar,
Lachie Pringle, Meg Shooter, Emily Weare, Tom Wilson

Director Mark G Nagle
Set Designers Mark G Nagle, Marta Rodriguez
Lighting Designer David Marshall-Martin
Costume Designer Bobbi Rickards
Sound Designer Glenn Braithwaite
Vision Designer George-Alex Nagle
Assistant Director Jarryd Prain
Assistant LIghting Designer Sam Rorke
Production Manager Mickie Miller

New Theatre – 524 King Street, Newtown  NSW  2042
4th February (Previews) to 7th March
Opening Night Thu 6 February 7:30pm
Thur – Sat 7:30pm. Sun 5pm
Sat 29 February & Sat 7 March 2pm only

New Theatre Tickets

Photography:  © Chris Lundie
Editor: Rebecca Varidel, Sydney Scoop

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